The Last “Substance Leader” – Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela BBC News Obituary

Click here for the BBC News Obituary about Nelson Mandela

Well, we can decidedly close an entire volume of human history: another era has come to a close. Although we still have a 110 year old pianist who remembers meeting Gustav Mahler, we have lost the last bastion of trustworthy social leadership. Nelson Mandela worked for a living despite his royal heritage, and all the while stood up for equality principles before finally leading an entire nation of different peoples into a more cohesive and prosperous future for all. At least for a while. I’m sure being in prison for 27 years imbued much substance that supported his convictions.

When any leader takes a stance on anything, many other people often choose to polarize themselves either for or against them (Conductors are not exempt!), so it will be very interesting to see how South Africans react to the death of Mandela: Will we see unprecedented collaboration or will it be all smoke and mirrors? Will there be continued peace or after a period of global mourning will the old divisions arise? Will there be no noticeable difference because our memories of his actions have faded and been overshadowed by so much else since then?

It is extremely doubtful we will ever see the likes of Mandela, Thatcher, Reagan, and Gorbachev ever again: regardless of their politics, they were people who earned a living in a trade and who learned the ways of the world from similar places you and I stand, and who earned the positions we entrusted them with through hard work and matters of substance. Not funding, slick marketing or family connections.

It is clear that the last chapter in the volume of political honesty, integrity and conviction in social leadership has ended, and as we ride the journey of the internet and corporately funded politics, we are in a new age of human existence that will take us and our leaders lacking in their own substance through an existence never before considered. It’s quite exciting, really!

#PsalmQuest 10 – Mirror 2 for solo harp

Writing this piece of music was probably one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve ever done. Perhaps that’s why it turned out to be a good one.

The harp can be a daunting instrument: it is large yet delicate, piano-like but not a piano, strings plucked with four fingers per hand not hammers hit by five fingers.

However, the learning process about harp technique was made considerably easier by Jacqueline Pollauf, who has kindly posted a list of guidelines online.

Anna Kate Mackle, Florida Orchestra

Anna Kate Mackle, Principal Harpist of the Florida Orchestra

But I must admit, I also cheated a little – I asked Anna Kate Mackle, Principal Harpist of the Florida Orchestra, for some input. Back in the mid 80s, Anna Kate and I were both in the New Jersey Youth Symphony and also attended the same summer camp in North Carolina, the Eastern Music Festival. It was such a terrific six weeks of intense music activity that we hardly saw each other, and when I moved back to the UK a few years later we lost touch until I moved to Tampa Bay some 20 years later. (EMF was so good, Anna Kate now teaches there every Summer).

Anyway, Anna Kate enthusiastically shared her perspective on a couple of corners during the creation of Mirror 2 and so I couldn’t resist but dedicate the piece to both her and Jacqueline. I do hope they’ll both find occasions to play the piece at some point (Maybe during next year’s Festival of Psalms).

Perhaps another reason this piece turned out so well is that I have a kind of fondness for the harp. Whilst in college in London I dated a harpist and spent a lot of time carrying and transporting her harp all over London and Kent. She attended the Royal College of Music and I attended Trinity College of Music, but we didn’t let that rivalry get in the way as we were both members of the Kent County Youth Orchestra (upper age limit 21), and my mom & her dad worked together at Kent Music School!

(Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure being a percussionist very used to carting about large and heavy instruments came in pretty handy during that relationship!)

Stephen P Brown has a history with the harpAnyway, in the past month or so I’ve learned a great deal more about the harp than I already knew (such as multiple note harmonics per hand) and tackled this composition with a different kind of energy. As one independent industry reviewer commented, the piece is “beautifully haunting.”

Mirror 2 is based on psalm 38 which is structured in 5 sections, namely A, B, C, then B again and finally A again. To me, that’s a mirror image. I don’t know if there’s a formal musical structure out there that imitates a mirror, but I’m not bothered about that – I’m calling it a Mirror in the same way that many pieces are called Sonata or Rondo based on the music’s structure.

By now you know that my compositions, although currently rooted in a more traditional Russian Romantic idiom, are far from normal. Typically we associate the harp with angels, prettiness, light cotton candy, beautiful sweeps and whooshes, and happy weddings.

So this piece is dark, low, deeply emotional and far from angelic! Each of the five sections of Psalm 38 are about Prayer or Pain. See Longman & Garland’s commentary for more details.

Use the Reverbnation player below to listen to the piece (it starts quietly) and then see if you agree with George’s assessment below. Let me know in the comments what you think.

I’m giving the sheet music for this piece away for free for an entire week, so if you know any harp players, be sure to send them this post using the share buttons below so they can download it and try it out. Both you and I would love to know what they think of it, right?!

Listen here:

Click here to get your copy of the sheet music.

So, do you agree with George?

George Algozzina likes Mirror 2 by Stephen P Brown

George Algozzina is, amongst other things, a tenor in the Clearwater Chorus

“My life has been truly affected and enriched this morning when listening to Stephen’s new song, ‘Mirror 2.’ It was wonderful to awaken and experience an entire day’s worth of feelings and emotions in just a few minutes through a truly amazing and beautiful musical composition. I do not know the emotional reaches or spiritual intentions Stephen has for his piece, but it took me from an ominous (almost hopeless) place…to one of acceptance…and then to one of self-awakening and the chance of peace, tranquility, and hopefulness. Thank you, Stephen, for making a difference in this moment and in my life!”

– George Algozzina

 

Add your own thoughts below…

 

New piano solo – Covered

Here is my psalm composition quest’s third piece of music:

Click here to get your copy of the score
For those of you “Psalmsters” following along with this project, you’ll know that this piece of music is based on Psalm 32. This psalm explains how sin is not eliminated, but covered from God’s view. Hence the title of the piece “Covered.”

The number 3 plays an important part throughout the psalm, and therefore my piece has lots of three’s in it as well. The introduction, for example, consists of 3 notes.

Constructing this piece was most interesting. There are clear elements in the psalm that include instruction, experience and even some words of wisdom from God. It’s funny that the structure of this psalm is more of a mirror than my last piece A Brass Mirror, but we won’t worry about that (Ah, the quirks of ‘artistic license!’)

British American Conductor Composer Stephen P Brown solo piano Covered

After the “early morning” introduction, Section A is about forgiveness. It is followed by a lesson from the author’s experience (B) and an explanation of a promise (C). The middle section is God sharing his promise of wisdom (D), and then we get another lesson (B) and explanation (C) before the author shares his happiness and excitement at being forgiven (A).

For some reason the audio elements of this piece are like an upturned pyramid: What should be the highest point of the structure (the middle) is actually the lowest. I just can’t imagine God speaking with a high-pitched voice, so it appears in Covered with a low but clear rumbling.

My wife likes this piece even more than the famous Not Rach 3 which had its premiere in early 2011, just before my move to Florida. That’s saying something. And I’m very pleased to dedicate this composition to some very engaged and loyal fans. (Thanks for participating in my little reward campaign – your goodies are on their way!)

What about the next piece? It’s a Wind Quintet with 11 instruments.

Yeah – we’ll figure that one out next week 🙂

Next Piece: A Brass Mirror

According to the countdown clock on this page there are now LESS than seven years for me to complete the whole project (click here to find out what the project is all about). All is well, though – I seem to be on track. Already I’ve completed two compositions in this massively huge project, and here’s the latest one:

 

This piece is based on Psalm 143, which is one of the many Lament psalms (58 in all). It has a clear structure, thanks to Longman & Garland’s commentary, and that made constructing the piece very simple. It starts with an introduction, then to a conversational Prayer requesting righteous thinking and behavior (let’s call that Section A), followed by an actual hymn-like Lament (B) – a time when the author recognized his own mistakes and sinfulness. Then the psalmist petitions for help (a variation of Section B) and finally returns to another prayer for righteousness (a slight variation of Section A again). I then closed the piece with a shortened reprise of the introduction.

Conductor Composer Maestro Stephen P Brown composes a piece for brass trio based on psalm 143 with an ABBA structureSeveral times I toyed with the idea of writing in the style of a disco beat, purely based on the structure above (A, B, B, A) but decided against it 😉 Instead, the piece is traditionally harmonic with a few Russian romantic twists and turns, but nothing harmful and not quite Stravinskian or minimalist.

What I do find interesting is the instrumentation. I wanted to tackle the brass section of the orchestra as it’s something I’ve not done since college. My friend James Stretton shared some thoughts and advice, and I wrote the piece for brass trio: horn, trombone and tuba. I think it’s a wonderful combination and with the right players, instruments and tonal quality, will sound mellow yet weighty. Love it. Thanks, Jim!

I dedicated the piece to him, but also wanted to acknowledge those folk in my life who helped me understand the horn, trombone and tuba (whether they know it or not), so I listed their names in the score, too. Thank you, folks. Perhaps you had a bigger impact on me than I’ve let on to date.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this piece. If you’d like a copy of the score and parts, you can get it for free for one week only at the link below. Be sure to share this post around, especially if you have any brass players following/friending you!

https://www.stephenpbrown.com/compositions/a-brass-mirror/

 

Composing D: Development

In Sonta Form there are usually two themes (see last week’s post for the Main Theme of our new piece). This past week that theme and the complimentary Secondary Theme were added to the score, twice each, and spread amongst all the instruments. When these two themes are presented for the first time in their entirety, it is usually in a section called the “Exposition” and this is what it sounds like in our “Sonata for Chamber Orchestra”:

[ca_audio url=”https://www.stephenpbrown.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Sonata-for-Chamber-Orch-Expo.mp3″ width=”500″ height=”27″ css_class=”codeart-google-mp3-player”]

 

Now it’s time to move on to the “Development” section. This is usually the longest section of a piece in Sonata Form as the composer can take snippets of both themes and twist, turn and combine them. They could also be played backwards, upside-down and of course, backwards AND upside-down! These compositional techniques serve to add variety, interest and keep the attentive listener guessing or trying to figure out what’s happening to the music.

Tweetable!
Add variety to your work – can you do something in reverse, upside-down, or another zany way? via @Stephen_P_Brown

 

As an example, let’s take these four notes:

 

Now let’s place those notes in reverse, like a mirror image. You don’t have to be able to read music to see the “Retrograde” pattern: 

 

Ok, now it gets a little tricker. Notice the way the original notes move up (higher) first, and then jump down at the end. Then look at the second bar and see the opposite – the notes move down (lower) first, and then jump up at the end. The melody has been “Inverted“:

 

Finally, let’s try and combine these two elements together. In this example, we first inverted the melody and then took its mirror image. See how the first note of the original (E, in between the top two lines) is also the last note in the Inversion Retrograde variation:

 

There was a time when audiences didn’t have the kind of soundbite distractions we do today, and many could actually HEAR these variations as the music was being played. What a skill! Nowadays we’d consider someone who could do that a genius, in the same way anyone under 18 would call someone who can legibly write cursive/ joined-up text must be a genuis (since public schools in the USA stopped teaching it).

For our new piece “Sonata for Chamber Orchestra” here are some of the snippets from the main themes that appear throughout the Development section:

 

 

 

 

And you’ll just have to wait to hear the complete Development section, I’m afraid!

Tell me below one thing you found fascinating about today’s post. Next week we should have the introduction and Coda (ending) completed, which means the entire composition will be ready! This is your last chance to have an influence on our new piece of music!